Remembering Valley Forge

Remembering Valley Forge

December 19, 2016

W. Burk portrait.

Valley Forge holds a special place in the history of the Museum of the American Revolution. Our over 100-year history begins with the Valley Forge Historical Society and  Rev. W. Herbert Burk, D.D. (1867-1933).  

As Rector of All Saint’s Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Burk first called for a monument to George Washington’s memory in a 1903 speech at Valley Forge. Within a few years, Burk founded both the Washington Memorial Chapel (still a fixture on the landscape of the National Historical Park) and the Valley Forge Museum of American History.

His first major acquisition for the museum he envisioned was the sleeping and office tent, or marquee, used by General Washington during the Revolutionary War. Following the death of Martha Washington in 1802, the marquee and other military field equipment passed down through the Custis and Lee families. In addition to the marquee tent and associated poles, ropes, tent pins, and other components, Burk acquired one of two leather portmanteaus or cases that were part of the General’s wartime baggage. 

Objects on Display at the Valley Forge Historical Society, including Washington's standard.

Shortly after completing the purchase of the marquee and transporting it to Valley Forge in 1909, Rev. Burk learned of the existence of another significant Washington-associated object from the Revolutionary War: the so-called Commander in Chief’s Standard. [See above image: objects on display at the Valley Forge Historical Society, including Washington's standard.] This thirteen star flag with a blue silk field descended in the family of Washington’s sister, Betty Washington Lewis. Among her sons (Washington’s nephews) were an officer in the Commander in Chief's Guard and two private secretaries who served at Mount Vernon and in Philadelphia during Washington’s presidency and retirement.

Those objects form the nucleus of the Museum of the American Revolution’s collection. Beginning on April 19, 2017, many of those same objects that Burk chose to display at Valley Forge will be presented in new, dynamic ways in historic Philadelphia.
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